When I first stretched my earlobes, the only market for them came from a punk kid peddling Pyrex tusks he made at his house, 20 for $20. That was I think 2 years ago, maybe not even that. The piercing studio had had them for a while I'm sure, but not for the prices I could afford.

Then I found Hot Topic. It was in the mall and it carried all the trendy items for the teen jet set. From within its wrought iron cage, one can acquire outfits to cater to the Yo! boy, the raver, the vampire goth primadonna, the Spice Girl, the new wave punk, the pimp daddy, and cheerleader gone horribly awry. For me, it was simply a place to get lobe stretchers at a fairly affordable price.

It took me forever to get the attention of the girl behind the counter whose vegetable dye mop of blue hair had faded to almost a toilet water shade. Once she did open the case for me, she had little or no ability to suggest anything to me and since whoever sized these things is going backwards in the gauge chart (I had always been told that when you went down in gauge number, you increased in size, for example, 06 is bigger than 08 and so on), I could only compare them to the ones I was wearing.

I had been wearing one of two neon pairs I had bought there previously, but wanted something a little more subtle for my friend's wedding in the next month. So the 06 (which were actually 08's) surgical steel ones worked for me. When she rang me up she reminded me that even if the packaging was not opened, they would offer no refunds, since they had had some intuitive teens creatively re-seal the vacuum packed bags and (what a surprise) pulled one over on the employees. She stamped my frequent buyer card two times with a skull and crossbones stamp so that now I only have to buy 10 more to get my 15% off. Wow-ie.

When things like this go trendy, you have to wonder how many teens' earlobes will turn gangrene or navels go red with infection because the care taken with such merchandise is severely diminished when it's moved from its place of origin to a place of mass marketing and consumption. Good thing I have extra bottles of peroxide and rubbing alcohol at home. Buyer beware, indeed.